Is Panama Expensive?

“Is Panama expensive?” is a question that is often asked by people who are planning a visit.

In my experience, Panama is both very expensive and dirt cheap.

To illustrate the point, I present a list of real-life expenses incurred in my recent one-day SCUBA diving trip to Coiba National Park. In short, the trip involved travel from Panama City to Santa Catalina, diving for one day, and return back to my apartment. As a matter of fact, traveling each way took a better part of a day. So, here is the list:

1. Travel from my apartment to Albrook bus terminal.

Distance: practically crossing the Panama City, from East to West.

Time: 2 hours! The traffic was insane on that day, even for Panama City.

Means: City bus, comfortable, clean, and air-conditioned.

Cost: $0.25 – verdict: dirt cheap.

2. Travel from Panama City to the city of Santiago.

Distance: 116 miles on the Pan-American four-lane highway.

Time: 4 hours

Means: Long range double-decker bus, comfortable with the air-conditioning and a restroom. There are no scheduled flights to Santiago, so the bus is the only option, but a good one.

Cost: $9 – verdict: dirt cheap.

3. Travel from Santiago to Santa Catalina, a village on the Pacific coast.

Distance: 53 miles on back-country two-lane roads

Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

Means: Pre-arranged taxi. Buses are available (you guessed it: they are dirt cheap), but much slower, if you count stops and waiting, and are less convenient schedule-wise.

Cost: $75 – verdict: moderate (cheap for a taxi ride, expensive relative to other transportation costs).

4. One day of SCUBA diving (3 boat dives in the Coiba National Park).

Diver fighting current
During the dive

Distance: about 40 miles by boat to the Contreras Islands.

Time: 2 hours boat ride each way, about 4 hours of diving and surface intervals (incl. lunch)

Cost: $160 – verdict: expensive for a diving trip, even considering long boat ride, lunch, and the equipment rental.

5. Coiba National Park Fees (per day).

Cost: $20 for foreigners – verdict: very expensive.

$5 for residents – verdict: average.

$2.50 for Jubilados (residents who are retirees) – verdict: dirt cheap.

6. Hotel room (two nights).

My hotel room

Nice room in a hostel located just steps from the beach. Equipped with bathroom, fridge, air conditioning, and a porch facing the ocean.

Cost: $60 (per night) – verdict: moderate to expensive, for the location in the middle of nowhere. (By comparison, a night in Panama City Marriott – a luxury hotel – is $80.)

7. Four meals in restaurants.

I had two dinners and two breakfasts during my stay. Tasty meals that included a Cappucino (or two) for breakfast and a beer for dinner.

Cost: $10-$15 per meal – verdict: cheap.

In conclusion, is Panama expensive?

You decide for yourself, based on the real-life prices in this example. Please let me know if your verdict (on what is cheap and what is expensive) agrees or disagrees with mine.







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